JOHNSON COUNTY — Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess believes a change in Indiana law could discourage catalytic converter thieves who have been increasingly busy in communities across the state.
“People show up with truck loads of catalytic converters and drop them off,” Burgess said. “It’s a lucrative business. They’re making tons of money.”
Surveillance video from a Center Grove area gas station helped Johnson County authorities identify and arrest 36-year old Johnathan Botts, who is believed to be a career criminal.
“I feel like he’s probably responsible for hundreds of catalytic converters being stolen,” said Johnson County Sheriff’s Investigations Commander Damian Katt. “Rather than go out and get a job, he’s tormenting the citizens of Johnson County and surrounding counties.”
The September 2 video from the gas station appears to show Botts climbing under a pickup truck with a saw while another man works as a lookout. Within a few minutes, the video allegedly shows Botts cutting the catalytic converter out from underneath the truck before the two men leave the area.
Detectives used the video and other evidence to eventually track Botts down at his Franklin home. Katt said a search of the home uncovered saws, saw blades, muffler parts and other tools used to commit the thefts. Investigators also found a handgun with the serial number scratched out and methamphetamine in Botts’ pocket, Katt said.
While Botts’ arrest is significant, authorities believe he is just one person involved in a loosely-organized theft ring that is responsible for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of catalytic converters in multiple counties over the last few years. The investigation into the other individuals involved is ongoing.
Catalytic converters are tempting targets for thieves because of the precious metals they contain. A person can make several hundred dollars by selling a converter to a scrap yard or core buyer.
Currently, Indiana law only requires a person to show a drivers license in order to sell catalytic converters to core buyer shops. Sheriff Burgess believes that needs to change. He and State Senator Jack Sandlin are currently discussing legislation to require more documentation before a catalytic converter sale can be legal. The intent is to prove a person is the legal owner of a catalytic converter or the vehicle it came from.
“There needs to be a VIN number or a title, registration,” Burgess said. “Something associated with that catalytic converter that the person is dropping off to these core buyers.”
“Instead of somebody showing up at a core buyer’s lot with a pickup truck full of 24 catalytic converters,” Katt added.
Burgess believes thefts would greatly decrease if state law made it more difficult for thieves to make money off the crimes. He compares it to the changes lawmakers made several years ago that made it more difficult to purchase the precursors for methamphetamine. Since that law change, meth labs are virtually non-existent across Indiana, Burgess said.
Senator Sandlin says he fully supports the idea of a law change. He hopes to introduce a bill related to the matter in the upcoming legislative session.